Written by Callum, Special Olympics Ontario athleteVisit Callum’s blog here
The carrying of the Torch. It’s a symbol almost as old as the Olympic Games themselves. A symbol that marks the beginning of pure, unbound competition. Perhaps The Torch goes back to the very first Game held in Greece, which must have been over two thousand years ago. Like many time-honoured, Olympic traditions, it is one that is also upheld by Special Olympics.
My first experience with this old, Olympic Flame was in 2016, when my competitive swimming brought me to the Provincial Games in Guelph, Ontario. The Opening Ceremony resides in my memory as snapshots of exciting things: music, speeches, and what must have been thousands of my fellow athletes, all equally as ecstatic as myself. I also remember the police officers who jogged into the auditorium from across town, high-fiving people as they carried the torch to its rightful place on the stage.
What I felt then was that it sort of made everything come together: the combination everything during the ceremony—including the Final Leg —made the games I was at feel really big and special. What I did not know was that the men and women who were carrying that torch, aside from supporting us in spirit, were also raising money for Special Olympics.
Truthfully, I did not know too much about the Law Enforcement Torch Run, until 2017. That was when I was invited for a very important event, held about a month before Toronto’s big Torch Run. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is open to all law enforcement services and agencies: not just local police, but also corrections, border patrol, campus police, just to name a few. Aside from doing the Final Leg for major games like the Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Games, Torch Run events (including community runs) are also held year-round all across Ontario, as fundraisers. At the Toronto Police HQ, they were holding a meeting to discuss everything about the annual Run: its purpose, its achievements, and how this year was going to go down. There was information for both Torch Run veterans, and those who were new to it all, and wanted to learn more. In order to show these new people that Torch Run was for a good cause, they wanted to hear from a Special Olympics athlete’s perspective. That is where I come in.
(Pictured above are just a few of the athletes that I sat alongside during the Provincial Games Opening Ceremony. Athletes who Torch Run helps support)
I had the incredible honour of being asked to deliver a speech, written by myself, to all the men and women in blue who attended the Torch Run meeting. While I have been invited to do a fair amount of public speaking over the last couple of years, this was my first big event. When I finally found it within myself to tackle the writing process, I read the end product out loud to my family. They said not to change a thing.
I was a still bit nervous about speaking in front a big, live audience like this: nervous about representing Special Olympics to so many people. That is understandable, given that part of my Autism encompasses anxiety. I later figured out that I suffer from Intrusive Thoughts as well. Intrusive Thoughts, basically, are manipulative, unwanted thoughts that exist only to torment you. Often before—or during—a big event, I get Intrusive Thoughts about how I am just going to do something really awful. Something like deliberately hurt somebody or say something really inappropriate when I am on the public stage. I never want to do these things, or even want to think about them, but Intrusive Thoughts keep intruding. As you can imagine, overcoming these mental obstacles are rather important when it comes to public speaking.
Fortunately, the thoughts never effected my actions. They never do. All the same, doing this speech in front of the Toronto Police was a great way for me to get a feel for public speaking. The officers who were there did their best to make sure that I was both comfortable, and knew what was going to happen. They also made me feel quite welcome. I was less nervous in the HQ than I was anytime before.
I went on stage, enjoyed the moment, and did my best to deliver the speech in a compelling way. Nothing went wrong, and my head quieted as soon as I got on stage. It went well, and people liked my speech. Resulting from all this, Torch Run helped prepare me for when I would appear in other public events in the future.
After being invited to give a speech, the Toronto Police also invited me to come with them on the Torch Run: the offer is there for anyone who is a Special Olympics athlete. For those who prefer a less sweaty, less tiring option—such as myself—there is also a group that walks behind the Torch instead of running. It makes for a nice view of the city: a traffic-less stroll through main downtown escorted by police and peers. Best of all: it is for a good cause as well.
While Special Olympic athletes are quite different from one another—and therefore we disagree on things as much as any other group of people—I think there is one thing that we all agree on: the Torch Run is awesome. In Ontario alone, since 1987, the Torch Run has raised over $35,000,000 for Special Olympics! More than that, I think it is really great to see so many police officers showing not only care and support, but understanding of people with Intellectual Disabilities, such as myself.
On that note, it brings me to something I want to say, as a way of giving respect to my city’s officers.
When you look at the Torch Run, you see thousands of officers who do care and are making an effort to help the people in their community. They do this free of any obligation. Officers who “Serve and Protect”, in other words. In my experience, those people—the understanding, compassionate people—make up the majority of the police force. And that is including officers I have met outside of Special Olympics-related events.
Outside of Torch Run, police officers often come to our other Special Olympics events, like games and tournaments. I think that goes to show the actual depth of their support and inclusion: it is more than tokenism. As a Special Olympic athlete, I feel a positive, warm support from our country’s Law Enforcement services and agencies. While the [HUGE] amount of money they raised has obviously done a ton of good, I also feel like the police try to reach out to people who are Intellectually Disabled as well. I like to think that my speech helped some of the officers who listened to it: that it gave them some insight that may have been helpful in the future, in dealing with other people like myself. Even if it was not that enlightening, I am grateful that so many people in the law enforcement community sat down there to at least try to gain that insight.
Because it started in the late 1960’s—an era which just had its Civil Rights Movement—Special Olympics had to evolve with different attitudes towards the intellectually disabled than much of society held at that time. While there are a lot of different reasons for Special Olympics’ success, I believe the most vital trait is having compassion, understanding and undying support in lieu of stereotyping and dismissal. In my mind, they are the values that brought Special Olympics to where it is today. And I’m glad that the Law Enforcement Torch Run also holds those values as true.